Hazards from Space

Authored by: Bill McGuire

The Routledge Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415590655
eBook ISBN: 9780203844236
Adobe ISBN: 9781136918698

10.4324/9780203844236.ch33

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Abstract

Hazards from space take the form of periodic collisions with asteroids and comets, powerful magnetic storms triggered by solar turbulence, and exceptional bursts of high-energy cosmic rays arising from exploding stars in the neighbourhood of our solar system. While having the potential to disrupt global communications and energy networks, or to obliterate a city, the associated day-to-day risk from hazards sourced beyond the atmosphere is small compared with more ubiquitous terrestrial hazards, such as earthquakes, floods and windstorms. As far as can be fully verified, no hazard from space has yet claimed a human life (but see later for some unconfirmed historical possibilities), and even for an impact large enough to have global consequences, the long-term, time-averaged mortality rate is just a few hundred deaths a year: a figure that will fall to fewer than 100 in a few years once detection of all such large objects is essentially complete. Nevertheless, religion, mythology and popular culture alike indulge in speculation about cataclysmic, other-worldly events that might affect the whole Earth (see Chapter 8 and Chapter 10).

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